Looking to minimize the damage from two scandals, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led off his State of the State Address Tuesday by taking responsibility for any mistakes, but also saying he won’t allow those controversies — or partisan politics — to bog down the rest of his agenda.
Mr. Christie said the last week has “tested this administration” and admitted that “mistakes were clearly made.”
“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” Mr. Christie said. “Without a doubt we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure this breach of trust does not happen again.”
The Republican, though, also said that the scandals will not prevent him from working with the legislature to build on the bipartisan accomplishments of his first four years in office.
“This administration and this legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people’s lives in New Jersey to be delayed,” Mr. Christie said. “The best part of our turnaround in these past four years is because we have chosen to work together.”
Tuesday’s speech was delivered under the cloud of the ongoing bridge scandal and new reports this week that Mr. Christie is facing a federal probe over whether he improperly used Hurricane Sandy emergency relief funds for tourism ads starring him and his family during his gubernatorial campaign last fall.
“Christie is surely going to try to use the State of the State speech to try to refocus attention on the policy initiative he wants as he starts his second term,” said David P. Redlawsk, political science professor at Rutgers University. “Unfortunately for him, both ‘Bridgegate’ and the Sandy funding issue are going to hang over him no matter what he says.”
Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, said Monday that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is preparing to audit the state’s use of $25 million of disaster funds, some of which went toward the marketing campaign to promote tourism on the Jersey Shore and which featured Mr. Christie.
The 51-year-old governor was already reeling from the bridge scandal, which broke after emails and text messages linked members of Mr. Christie’s inner circle and some of his appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to lane closures at George Washington Bridge, apparently as part of a politically motivated scheme to punish a Democratic mayor in Fort Lee for not endorsing his re-election effort.
Mr. Christie said last week he was duped by his staff and fired a top aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote to one of the governor’s appointees at the Port Authority: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
He also withdrew his nomination of Bill Stepien, who managed his successful re-election campaign, to take over the New Jersey Republican Party, and stripped Mr. Stepien of his consulting role with the Republican Governors Association, which Mr. Christie chairs.
Since then, the New Jersey Assembly has released thousands of emails and texts that quote Christie advisers and offer a clearer picture of the timeline of events that led up to the lane closures.
State lawmakers also have formed a special investigatory committee that is focusing on the bridge saga and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat leading the panel, said he will issue subpoenas requiring several of Mr. Christie’s advisers to testify.
The scandal has raised questions about Mr. Christie’s leadership skills and brash political style, and tarnished his image.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released last week showed that most New Jersey voters think that Mr. Christie was at least somewhat aware of that the traffic lanes were being closed as retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, which sits at the mouth of the George Washington Bridge.
The episode also fueled new doubts about the Republican’s chances of running for president in 2016 and opened him up to criticism from Democrats.